Fritz Esker's Best and Worst of 2013

00:00 February 23, 2014
By: Fritz Esker
[Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox]


1. 1. Before Midnight - Richard Linklater's third film in his landmark series tracking the relationship between once young lovers is the best cinematic illustration of how "happily ever after" entails a lot of hard work and frustration in real life.

2. 12 Years a Slave - Chiwetel Ejiofor's understated performance anchors Steve McQueen's masterpiece about a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery. Always harrowing without descending into gratuitous sadism.

3. Nebraska - Director Alexander Payne makes another excellent character study, this one following an old man (Bruce Dern) returning to his hometown after mistakenly believing he has won a million dollars. Subtle, funny, and bittersweet.

4. Stories We Tell - Actress Sarah Polley discovered the man she knew as her dad may not have been her actual father. The ensuing documentary is full of empathy, compassion, and insight as to how people craft different personal narratives from the same event.

5. The Act of Killing - Filipino thugs recount their participation in a 1960s revolution/genocide while re-enacting events on film in one of the most unsettling documentaries ever made. Imagine if the Nazis won, then rationalized/justified the Holocaust decades later.

6. The Wolf of Wall Street - Proving three hour movies can be fast paced, Martin Scorsese's tale of white collar greed and excess is anchored by a terrific performance from Leonardo DiCaprio. The movie is so darkly funny and entertaining that many will incorrectly view it as an endorsement of deplorable behavior.

7. Short Term 12 - This moving character study tells the story of a young social worker battling her own demons while trying to help the adolescents in her care. In a just world, Brie Larson would win the Best Actress Oscar for her brilliant performance.

8. American Hustle - Occasionally over the top, but always riveting, the film's retelling of the ABSCAM case is another home run for director David O. Russell. It effortlessly combines humor, tension, and pathos.

9. Gravity - 2013's definitive "you must see this on the big screen" experience. Director Alfonso Cuaron's tale of an astronaut (Sandra Bullock) stranded in space is 90 minutes of masterfully executed tension.

10. Philomena - Judi Dench hires journalist Steve Coogan to find the son she gave up for adoption decades earlier. A movie that's both charming and sad, Philomena portrays two characters with diametrically opposed outlooks on life in a way that doesn't patronize either of them.

Honorable Mentions: The Past, Captain Phillips, Rush, Side Effects, About Time


10.Anchorman 2 - Okay, I'm cheating here. I did see films that were worse in 2013, but Anchorman 2 combines a bad film with crushing disappointment. Overlong, sloppy, and unfocused, this desperately needed a better script and fewer endless improvisations.

9.Pain and Gain - Michael Bay ventures into black comedy with predictably painful, unfunny results.The only reason it didn't rank lower on the list is because of typically excellent work by Ed Harris as a detective.

8.Lords of Salem - Some critics that I respect actually like director Rob Zombie's work.I can't see why. This is dull, predictable and not scary - check out 2013's The Conjuring, You're Next, or Mama instead if you want a scare.

7.The Counselor - Here's 2013's most laughably pretentious movie. Cormac McCarthy's stilted, pseudo-philosophical dialogue is downright hilarious coming from the mouth of Cameron Diaz. Thankfully, most critics didn't fall for it.

6.A Good Day to Die Hard - I really, really wanted this to be fun. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Die Hard sequels are not on par with the original, but they all range from passable to good. Everything about this one screams "phoned in."

5.The Internship - A giant Google ad disguised as a slacker comedy.Less funny than Anchorman 2, but similarly burdened with an overlong 2-hour running time.

4.Identity Thief - Melissa McCarthy can be funny, but she's in grave danger of being permanently typecast. This is shrill, loud, unfunny and full of phony sentiment near the end.

3.Hansel & Gretel:Witch Hunters - In its own way, CGI is every bit as cheesy as old stop motion special effects. The film is an endless parade of interchangeable fights between Jeremy Renner, Gemma Arterton and CGI witches/monsters.

2.Fast and Furious 6 - Some critics defended this bloated, poorly written 2 hr 20 minute soap opera/car porn by saying "If you expect it to be bad, you'll enjoy it." By that logic, you can argue Plan 9 From Outer Space was good.

1.A Haunted House - Halfway through this laughless (literally - I didn't even smile once) 90 minute "comedy," an old man entered the auditorium, sat behind me, ate a snack, then left after 15 minutes.He didn't miss anything.

Sign Up!